“It is 1914, and Europe is on the brink of war. When a magnificent ocean liner suffers a mysterious explosion en route to New York City, Henry Winter manages to secure a place in a lifeboat for his new wife Grace. But the survivors quickly realize the boat is over capacity and could sink at any moment. For any to live, some must die.”
This was a very intriguing read. I actually picked this book up because there was a buy one get one half price offer. I had already found one book, so my only priority was “does it have a sticker on it?” The problem with these kind of deals is usually that they lure in you in by offering one book that you really want in the deal, then force you choose from a less than stellar selection of other books. I’ll admit I kind of thought this was the case with “The Lifeboat”. I also always slightly wary about books which are featured in things like “The Waterstones Book Club” (which this one is) but I’m starting to accept that this may just be a silly prejudice I need to get over, as it appears to be preventing me from reading some really brilliant books!
Anyway, I tentatively started reading “The Lifeboat”, then found myself hooked. Rogan very cleverly allocates one day to each chapter, which tricked my mind into thinking I was covering a lot more ground than I was because it was so fast paced. As a result I found myself constantly thinking “I’ll just read one more day”over and over again. In addition to this, each chapter seemed to open up more mysteries than the previous one, until the weight of them seemed to be the real reason the lifeboat is riding low in the water. This meant I had to keep reading to see if any of these mysteries would be solved. Rogan’s sense of scene is also amazing, she gets across the isolation of being alone at sea whilst also managing to portray the cloying claustrophobia of being trapped on a tiny lifeboat with complete strangers, seeming to prove that “alone, together” is not as oxymoronic as you’d first think.
The book is written entirely from the point of view of Grace Winter, a woman who was travelling first class on board the ship. As all the action is seen from Grace’s point of view this heightens the sense of mystery, as the reader almost becomes a co-conspirator in her private speculations and is completely excluded from the thoughts and reasoning of any of the other passengers. From the very beginning I was suspicious about what Grace’s agenda was. This was a feeling that was built upon as the novel progressed and she began to seem an ambiguous ,almost calculating protagonist.
It was very interesting to read a novel with a narrator I didn’t fully trust. I think it’s so easy to get swept along and accept everything the narrative voice tells us without question, and the thing is…I did want to trust Grace because she seemed nice. I think this is one of the things Rogan was trying to explore, from the very beginning it is clear that brutality is what has saved the people in the lifeboat, i.e. they got in the boat at the expense of others. You push this aside, however, because individually all the characters seem nice. The reality is, thought, that they do not try to save anyone except themselves and as weaker members die the communal sense of relief is at times quite shocking. Rogan really strips away the niceties and tries to expose human nature at it’s most base. We all like to think that at times of real crisis we would act heroically, but what Rogan exposes is that for every 1 hero, there are hundreds of people who literally abandon ship and save themselves.
I really enjoyed this book, one of the quotes of “praise” in the front of the book states that it is “a thought provoking debut about life, death and survival…morally complex and devastatingly intense” and I think this sums it up better than I can! Perhaps what makes Grace so abstruse is that she has an unashamed sense of self preservation,at the expense of all others. It’s really hard to explain this without giving any spoilers, so I need you to go and read this book to find out what I mean. Be prepared though, almost nothing is resolved in this book. It’s like a can of worms which leaves you with more questions than it does answers!